E3 2012: Microsoft Conference Coverage and Thoughts
Going into the E3 Microsoft Press Conference I was worried about things being heavily focused on Kinect rather than what people are primarily going to E3 for, video games, new IP’s and strong gameplay innovation. What was shown was much more balanced in comparison to last years conference, focusing on just about everything.
The conference started out as big as it always does, with one of their flagship titles gracing the big screen. This year it was Halo 4. It started off with Master chief in a jungle setting watching as a gigantic ship flew overhead. Following this eye catching visual, we were thrown into the first person HUD, which has gone through a few renovations. Cortana (Or any other person who was talking to Master Chief) would show up on the top left side of the HUD in a video format, reminiscent of a game like Star Craft 2. The HUD itself was much more filled and you could even see the outlines of the visor , making the feeling of being in a giant suit more apparent.
After gunning down a few Covenant, we were introduced to a new form of enemy. Cortana claimed it not to be organic, so this new enemy will be a synthetic/computer based species that have shape shifting traits and quick reflexes. Their orange glowing bodies would give away their position, but also had a trail, so it could confuse a player at the same time. The Chief picks up one of the guns from these enemies and we see it reshape itself into a gun, followed by the information that it’s forerunner technology, as told by Cortana.
The demo was impressive. 343 has done a great job at updating the graphics of the Halo franchise to make it stand out from it’s Bungie predecessor, however the dialogue seemed forced during the playthrough, the new camera for conversation in the top left corner doesn’t feel exactly necessary and Cortana has gone through yet another design change. We’ll just have to see if 343 can pull off having a stellar Halo franchise when it releases.
Following Halo was another big name franchise, Spliter Cell. It started with Sam Fisher dressed to fit into the Iran/Iraq culture. He held a hurt soldier and took him to a camp filled with enemy combatants. Pretending to be on their side, he was rushed into a tent and the people quickly went to deal with the man’s wounds. During this time, Sam pegged them with the same multi-shot system from Conviction. After a bit, they began to question Sam’s character and he made quick work of these antagonists.
Throughout the demo we were shown new gameplay mechanics and some Kinect implementation. The Multi-kill tagging system allows Sam to shoot while running and this makes the entire experience much smoother. During one section, where Sam is being shot at by a giant machine gun turret, using voice commands, he had a small bombing run called down upon the turret. It appeared to be much more action oriented than previous installments and this could either be met with satisfaction or distaste seeing as how most of the games made today try to be that blockbuster standard. One major downside that seems to be apparent is that Sam Fisher was voiced by someone else and not Michael Ironside, who’s been the voice of Sam for the entirety of the series.
Proceeding these two big games, Microsoft shifted their conference to sports. Fifa 13 and Madden 13 were both shown and there was a big focus on using Kinect. In Fifa, the idea of coaching the team and calling the shots from the sidelines was a big feature and in Madden, being able to hike the ball and call out the play was a big factor when using Kinect. Aside from that, there wasn’t much talk on the franchises themselves.
After a short video clip of Fable: The Journey, the premiere trailer for Gears of War: Judgement was shown, which was sneak peaked a couple days prior, as it is going to be the cover for next month’s issue of Gameinformer. The story will focus on Cole and Baird as they are imprisoned, for what reason is still to be determined. Forza had it’s small screen time with it’s smooth and relaxing visuals, followed by the introduction of using Kinect to do Bing searches. Also announced were new partnerships with video production companies like Nickelodean and Machinima, Sports like the NBA and the NHL as well as 24/7 sports coverage streamed live to your Xbox machine. Perhaps the best thing about all of these sports announcements was the fact that your machine could display two separate feeds of two different games and allow you to switch to full screen with either one or have one slightly focused while the other was still displayed.
Microsoft made a rather surprising announcement with the news that they’re launching another music service (Outside of Zune) called “Xbox Music”. Announcing over 30 million tracks and compatibility with Xbox, Windows 8, Tablets and phones, you could listen to music anywhere and anytime with the slogan “Your music, your way”. During the preview video certain things were shown like preferred lists of music and something called DJ lists that could contain mixes of your favorites or blends with other songs preferred for you.
Microsoft jumped on the Wii Fit bandwagon by introducing Kinect Fitness, which seems like a much more in depth version of Wii Fit. Using Xbox Live you’d be able to find others around the world that share a similar fitness level to yourself and you could also have it synched with your phone or other devices to give you reminders of when to exercise and keep track of your fitness. Whether or not this will be pulled off into anything substantial is questionable seeing as how many fitness apps there already are for phones and other mobile devices.
Probably the most intriguing hardware integration feature that Microsoft announced was Xbox Smartglass. While the name isn’t the greatest, the idea is reminiscent of the WiiU’s tablet integration. It was announced to be compatible with Apple products, Android and Microsoft tablets and phones and with this integration, you could use any of these devices to control your games or your Xbox dashboard. Some key examples were in Madden, being able to choose your play but being able to redraw it on the fly into something original and new, being able to swipe the dashboard with your phone rather than swiping through the air with Kinect. When watching a movie or a show, the concept showed the idea that you could be more integrated into the experience by having your phone or tablet display information about the show/movie or showing things like where the person is in relation to other characters on a giant map of the imagined place.
Microsoft announced Internet Explorer is coming to Xbox which features like bookmarks and Kinect voice command for easier web searches. That’s about all there is to that announcement.
Getting back to games, the new Tomb Raider game was shown with gameplay being a big part of it. This new title is looking to have a huge blockbuster feel with a lot of action oriented combat. Lara was shown using a bow and arrow to great accuracy and a shotgun for bigger impacts. The use of the environment seemed very well integrated, as boxes and barrels would be destroyed by gunfire, cover would be destroyed and doors would be unhinged if given enough destruction. At one point Lara had flaming arrows and used them to catch multiple enemies on fire, running past them like they were nothing important.
During a few moments, there were some small QTE sections, which seemed about as basic as they get, but they didn’t appear too often that it seemed to be a big issue. During one section, Lara was racing down a white rapids, on-rails section but at certain key moments, time would slow down because lara needed to destroy upcoming obstacles in order to continue down her path. Lots of gut wrenching pain was inflicted on the young heroine in this origin story, the near ending pummeling her into a tree and falling onto every conceivable branch of said tree, resulting in multiple bruises and cuts. Microsoft announced that the first bit of DLC will release exclusively for Xbox. This new title seems to really be taking Lara in a new direction and it might be exactly what the series needs after it’s downhill turn of recent generations.
3 new IP’s were shown of at the Microsoft conference, Ascend: New Gods, LocoCycle and Matter. Not much was shown in regards to any of them, but Ascend basically looks like big bulky characters fighting eachother and then god like characters coming down for really big, God of War or Shadow of the Colossus type boss fights. LocoCycle is from Twisted Pixel and looks to be something Tron inspired, Matter looked like something out of Aperture Science, but other than that, there was no real information given about these upcoming titles.
One of the titles I’ve been most excited for has been Resident Evil 6 and after the new IP’s, they showed off some brand new, Leon focused gameplay footage of RE6. In this look, Leon showed off a bunch of new moves such as being able to move and shoot (Finally!), diving backwards like Max Payne without Bullet Time and being able to do one handed shooting spurts. These all made Leon much more limber and able to combat the hordes of zombies that were strewn about the level. We were also shown that it’s going to have some big explosive grenades and that Leon will have the ability to do multi-shot style sequences reminiscent of Splinter Cell’s targeting system.
The QTE sections of the game looked to be a little more complex and hopefully will make QTE fun again, as they appear to require you to hit them in key moments for the best result. A button would show up along with a needle that would move from left to right, one section of this area being the sweet spot where you would be expected to hit the QTE button for it to execute properly. While this section of the game was much more action oriented, Capcom has promised a good mix of what made RE so popular, the horror, along with this new action design, so hopefully they can pull it off in this, which appears to be their biggest and most ambitious, title.
A small, what looks to be an XBLA title using Kinect, was shown called “Wreckateer” and the plot behind it is that you’re exactly as the title says, trying to destroy castles with your arsenal of boulders. You get a few different types of boulders, such as your traditional style, boulders than split into smaller boulders and boulders that grow jet packs and allow you to fly them into key areas of the castles. You put your hands together as if you’re grabbing the boulder and pull back, release and it’ll fire like a slingshot, from there you can manipulate the boulder by spinning it or by redirecting it, whether it be the multi-boulder shots or spreading your arms like wings for the flying boulder.
South Park: The Stick of Truth was shown and, followed by a huge joke about Xbox Smartglass, the creators of South Park talked a little about how they wanted to really make a game that felt more like playing the show than anything else. You’ll play as “The new kid” in town who is supposed to become the fifth member of the South Park crew and it appears to be a game that is very fantasy, Lord of the Rings in story. After all of the previous South Park stories, one can only hope that this one is actually a fun game.
Dance Central 3 had Usher help make some of the choreography. Not much to talk about with that, cause it was mostly just Usher dancing.
Before the conference closed out, they had to end on a big band, so what better to end it on than with Black Ops 2. Now while people have gotten fed up with the Call of Duty franchise, we have to remember that for a while, 2 studios did the franchise. Treyarch and Infinity Ward. The former making games like Call of Duty 3, World at War and the first Black Ops. These are the guys behind Zombie Nazi’s and they have always tried to do something innovative with the series. Infinity Ward was the studio behind Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3, all of which were essentially the same game. Treyarch has appeared to make yet another innovation on their side of the franchise by taking the story into a more distant future, where soldiers have holographic computers mounted to their arms for informational purposes and we have a female president. During this long gameplay footage, we were treated a slew of new gameplay mechanics. After your convoy is destroyed on the highway, you have to go on foot to extract the president in this futuristic war zone. Mason jumps into a tank that is equipped with lock on missiles to take down enemy planes in the local vicinity and follows up by taking a sniping position to cover the president and her body guards. During this section, we see a new sniper that has X-ray type vision, very reminiscent of Perfect Dark’s Farsight rifle. It allowed in some cases for shots to be taken that would travel through walls, which will be very interesting if put into multiplayer. Cars exploded when shot and then after the sniper scene was finished we were given the typical “In the interest of time…” scheme.
We fall back into the fight where Mason is in control of flying machine gun turrets. Following you around,they’ll shoot enemies for you and using your holographic computer, you can point them in certain directions for them to go and seek out targets. Before we get much further, a giant building topples over, Battlefield-style and Mason has to travel through the rubble and dust from this collapse to find the president. A short distance away, she is found the the player is given control of a fighter jet. What followed was a flight simulation section with free reign to control and explore while taking down enemy fighters. The plane is intended to protect caravans that are transporting the president and its up to you to destroy any and all hostiles, which included taking down enemies on the ground, taking down a helicopter and finally a bunch of enemy gunships. This is where the demo, as well as Microsoft’s E3 conference ended.
Overall, I think that Microsoft did a much better job at not focusing solely on something like Kinect during their conference. They certainly tried to tailor themselves to everybody they could, but at the same time, it felt like they may have spread themselves too thin. With a bigger focus on integrating Kinect with more traditional gaming, I think Microsoft has gained some credibility and I think the new Xbox Smartglass could be implemented very well if handled correctly. The big game announcements weren’t as focused as well on as I could have hoped, but they did enough to at least get me intrigued for some up and coming titles. Some surprises like Splinter Cell got me excited while the showing of Halo 4 has me more skeptical now than I was before. Overall, their conference was much better than last years, but still pretty lackluster at times.